Tag Archives: books

29Apr/15

Indispensable Writing Books: The Artist’s Way

My friend Gregory Lynn from Tales From the Mad Monk has an ongoing series highlighting his favorite books on writing. He and I came up with the idea several weeks ago, and I’m finally sitting down and sharing mine. This is the first of several posts about my favorite books on writing.

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The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron may not sound like a writing book, but this single woo-woo piece of spiritual self-help has been the most important book in my writing career. Why? Because before I read it, I hadn’t written a creative word in almost a decade.

The first time I went through it was with an online group of digital designers. I wanted to be a graphic artist at the time. By the time I’d sorted through all my feelings and heartaches and rejections, I realized that I really wanted to be a writer. I’ve since facilitated 3 different groups through this book.

It’s not a quick and easy read that will instantly give you the button to push to make yourself rich and successful. It’s a difficult book. It requires work and thought. It requires you to dredge up really painful parts of your past, and sometimes that kind of work will make you sick. It will force you to quit sabotaging yourself, quit making excuses, and start doing things that you’re afraid of. In my case, I was afraid of putting myself out there as a writer. It took me many months to sort this out.

If you feel like you are blocked, or that you’re just not doing what you want to be doing, I highly recommend picking up this book. I also recommend trying to find people local to you who would commit to starting a group in person to go through it. Three of my groups were online. You can get away with a lot of cheating online. In-person groups will see through your excuses and, pardon my swearing, call you on your shit. My Artist’s Way tribe doesn’t let me get away with half-ass work anymore, because they know what I’m capable of and what I want to do. Sometimes, that’s even harder than just being a blocked creative.

the artists way by julia cameronSo if you’re still in the beginning phases and you’re still nervous about writing that first story, or you feel like you’ve plateaued in a writing career, pick up a copy of The Artist’s Way. Convince a friend to go through it with you. Say it’s a dumb experiment and it’s just for fun. Then see what breaks loose.

Happy writing!

19Mar/15

Congratulations! You’re in Sales, and You Didn’t Know It!

If you finished writing and publishing a book, and it was available to purchase, what would you do? I know some writers just let the books sit there and hope people will find them. But others try to get the word out: “I have a book! Buy my book!” Now that I have a couple of books out, I find myself in the position of trying to tell people about them. Even though my former career was in PR and Marketing, I am finding this a difficult task. I hate trying to sell myself. So I checked out a couple of books to see what I could learn.

First up is Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human. I checked it out based on the premise: that everyone is in sales in some way. We’re all trying to move others to listen to us, buy from us, or do things for us.

To Sell is Human

The first half of the book was incredibly slow. I almost didn’t finish it. Pink spends most of the time hammering on the idea of everyone being in sales. The best part of it, though, was a focus on how the information age has shifted roles.

Ten or fifteen years ago, there were people who had knowledge about things, and the only way to get that knowledge was to ask the experts. In person. Learn from them. Buy from them. Teachers, doctors, even used car salesmen had their areas of expertise that no one else could have without their training.

Enter the internet. Now, everyone has information at their fingertips. People can look you up and know in a heartbeat whether your product is good or whether they want to do business with you. The paradigm has shifted. You can’t use those slick marketing tricks to get people to buy anymore. You have to offer things in a different way.

When Pink gets to the actual ways of offering products, I started taking notes. I filled 3 pages in my notebook. This is where the good stuff is. This is where all the tips and ideas are that will help you become a better marketer and probably a better person. It has already changed how I plan to proceed with my next books.

He spends a lot of time talking about asking the right question. This is going to require a lot of practice on my part, because I’m so used to telling. This technique is all about listening.

Pink also offers six different types of pitches that you can use, and recommends preparing them several times until you get it nailed down the way you like it. I thought I’d heard all of it before, but I still liked the way he presented them. The six types are:

  1. The one-word pitch. (I’m not joking. One Single Word.)
  2. The question. This one is great for social media.
  3. The rhyming pitch.
  4. Subject Lines. (as in email or blog titles)
  5. Twitter. (140 characters or less, buddy)
  6. The Pixar Pitch. (tell a story)

You’ll also get a quick overview of how learning about Improv can help you with marketing.

This isn’t my favorite book by Pink, but my brain has been buzzing for the last two days since I finished reading it. There are some new ideas here, and I’m glad to have them.

If you’re trying to learn more about marketing, I highly recommend you check out this book and see if it doesn’t alter the way you think about your customers. Come back next week and tell me what you thought of it! I’d love to have someone to discuss it with.

22Nov/14

The Weight is Lifted

Five years ago, I watched a friend struggle with self-doubt and fear. She had written a novel. A good novel. She had edited that novel several times. She had been to workshops and conferences. She had an author website. But she never actually sent the manuscript to anyone.

There was a group of us, a “Creative Cluster” if you will, who met to talk about our projects and get encouraged and inspired. We started setting goals together. This friend set a deadline for herself to send the manuscript to an agent. She knew which agent. She had the manuscript. But somehow, she never sent it.

It’s five years later and she still never sent it.

Watching her go through that, I made a promise to myself: I would put a book out by the age of 35. I would not be in my late 40s, still wanting to be an author but too afraid to take the baby steps necessary.

That promise proved a heavy weight.

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For the next three years, I wrote religiously. I wrote and read and studied and practiced. I wrote several novels, a few screenplays, a dozen short stories, and hundreds of pieces of flash fiction, but I didn’t feel like I was getting there. I had a few pieces published, and a lot more of them rejected, but I didn’t have a great novel in me.

I shifted gears to work on a project for a friend: I’d been mentoring several friends through the process of beginning homeschooling. Kind of a niche subject, but definitely a pet topic of mine. I started gathering all the essays I’d written and all my best advice to write a short book for my friend.

Within a few months, it became obvious that this little side project was going to get bigger. It had to be done right. I had to make it real. It was weird to me that I was writing nonfiction (and about homeschooling! Come on! I’m a spec fic writer!). But I kept keeping on.

While writing the 3rd draft, I turned 35. This was not supposed to happen. I was supposed to be a famous author by then! But I knew I was getting close, so I kept working. I hired an editor, which gave me a clear deadline. I started talking openly about working on the book with friends, who took it on themselves to watch my children so I could work. This was awesome.

Then I set to work on the self-publishing process. It took about 6 weeks, from edit to finish, but it felt like years. It was hard. I cried a lot. I got frustrated. I doubted myself. I loved myself. I hated the book. People read the book and loved the book, so I loved the book.

I’ve had no energy the last few weeks. I’ve felt clogged, honestly, like my brain wasn’t working right. I couldn’t sleep. I’d get up in the middle of the night to work on formatting or cover work or category research. I was ill. I didn’t care about food. I just obsessively worked at getting this freaking book out into the world.

Yesterday, I launched the book.

me with my book!

 

The most amazing thing of this whole process? I almost immediately felt human again. I had forgotten I’d been carrying the weight of that promise for five years. FIVE YEARS! And it’s over now. Yes, I have more books planned (specifically a middle-grade sci-fi that’s been on hold the last few months). But I’m really going to enjoy just being a person for a few months.

So, that’s my story. It was hard and scary and it sucked sometimes, but I can honestly say I did the best I was capable of at the time, and that’s a big thing to be able to say. So… yay me! That is all.

02Sep/14

Five (Psychological) Reasons to Hire an Editor

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Look at that red pen for a moment. Does the sight of it make you squirm? Are you having flashbacks to junior high, when a teacher handed you back the best paper you’d ever written with a hundred illegible scribbles all over it? Does the idea of red ink give you anxiety attacks?

Some writers see the word “editor” and freak out.

But if you are planning to make it as a writer, especially in the current publishing climate, I highly recommend hiring an editor. I’m not going to tell you all the great benefits of having your work edited. I’m sure you already know how typos and poor sentence structure can turn your 5-star plot into a 2-star dud on Amazon. I’m sure you understand that having someone else read your work can help you spot errors you couldn’t see, no matter how much you like correcting the grammar of others.

Today, I’m going to tell you why your writing will improve from hiring an editor before the editor ever touches your work.

 

Reason #1: It’s a Confidence Booster

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I hired an editor in mid-June. I had been waffling about the idea for months. I knew what editor I wanted. I had been following her for some time on Google+ and knew that she worked on books similar to mine. She has a great reputation in the editing world. She’s the type of editor who sleeps next to the Chicago Manual of Style and geeks out about etymology. For many months, I knew that if I was going to hire an editor, she would be the one I wanted to work with.

For all those months I wished she was my editor, I never felt that I was good enough to be one of her clients.

One day, I saw a post by her that said she only had  two open slots left for all of 2014. This was back in June, when there was still half a year left to go. I knew I wanted to get my book finished by the end of the year. Suddenly, I had a choice to make. If I was going to have her as my editor, I needed to book one of those slots, and I had to do it fast.

When I contacted her, she seemed just as excited to work with me as I was to work with her. She had been following my progress, knew I was working on a non-fiction book, and said she looked forward to working with me. Well, then. That’s nice, isn’t it?

If you have an editor in mind to work with, don’t be shy about contacting them. They might be looking forward to working with you, too.

 

Reason #2: You Get a Built-In Deadline

I’ve been working on this book for 18 months. I have friends who expected a copy last summer, then at Christmas, then in the spring. But all you writers know what it’s like. I’ll write a book! Sure! Then you get sucked in to the black hole of YouTube, and you haven’t written a word for weeks.

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Maybe you’re more disciplined than I am. Well, good for you. I freely admit to needing some outside assistance.

Since my editor is booked through the end of this year and into the spring, I know my October 1 deadline is fixed. I know I don’t get to smudge this one. I know this is my one shot for this editor for this book. And you better believe I’ve spent every free moment working on my book since then. Well, beyond writing blog posts and dorking around on the internet for breaks, I’ve been working.

 

Reason #3: It’s Proof You’re a Real Writer

Up until now, you’ve told people, “I’m working on a book.” Neighbor kids think that’s the coolest thing ever (until you tell them what the book is about). Some of your friends might think it’s nice that you’re working on a book. But if you live in Southern California, like I do, and you tell people, “I’m a writer,” they say, “Oh, me too!” Everyone is a writer. It’s kind of nice, really. But at the same time, there’s this longing to be “a real writer.” Sure, I have some short stories published (doesn’t everyone?), but that’s as far as those conversations usually go.

But in this case, I have an editor for a specific project that I am completing in less than a month. And for some reason, I feel less defensive about trying to convince myself that I’m a writer now. Your threshhold for being a “real writer” might vary from mine, but being able to mention “my editor” in a conversation is just the kind of name-dropping I need to feel validated. Is that evil? Possibly.

 

Reason #4: You Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

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I’ve been writing as a serious hobby for over five years now. I’ve written four rough drafts of novels, three screenplays, hundreds of flash fiction pieces, and a dozen short stories. Some of them have been published. But I still feel weird when I talk to anyone who says, “I’m writing a book.” See #3. Sure you are. We all are.

By hiring an editor, I’m putting my money where my mouth is. I’m saying, “Not only am I writing a book, but I’m finishing a book, paying someone to help me clean it up, and then publishing it.”

This is the furthest I’ve been on this journey so far. It’s a stretch. I was happy to just be writing a book for all those years before. Now, I want people to be reading the book. Hiring an editor is the next step on that journey.

 

Reason #5: You Have to Step Up Your Game

Before I even considered hiring an editor, I was halfway through the 4th draft of my book. It started as a mush of disconnected thoughts that became coherent over two complete rewrites. I knew this would be one of my final drafts when I came to it, and I’ve been working on it with a polished final draft in mind.

However, knowing the caliber of editor I’ve hired and the other clients she works with, I realized I needed to step it up. Good enough isn’t good enough anymore. This better be my best, right now. For me, that’s not a paralyzing feeling but an encouraging one. I know I can do better. I know that I was slacking a bit before I hired her. I also know what I’m doing now is the best I can do right now. And I’m excited to see how my editor will help my work become even better.

 

There you have it. Five reasons to hire an editor. I still have a month left to finish this book and get it to my editor, but my work and my confidence levels have already improved just from making the step to hire her.

If you’re nearing the point of needing an editor for your work, and you have someone in mind, I highly recommend you contact them to talk about how you can work together. And if you’re not quite there yet, I bet you will be if you keep working. Happy writing!

23Jul/11

Embracing the Mystery

I read two books this week, seemingly unrelated, that both touched on something I’ve wondered about. I’ve always considered myself a logical person. If I were a character in Star Trek, I would be Spock. But there has always been this dichotomy in me as well. I am creative. I have always loved music and art and literature and poetry. I see colors when I hear certain music, my moods change significantly depending on what I hear and see, and I am sometimes brought to tears by the image of a field full of flowers. In this way, I am nothing like Spock.

I have never been able to explain this strange split in myself. I have always considered it a struggle between my logical and my emotional selves. I felt that one must always outweigh the other, and for my part I always respected logic above all else.


Then I read Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. If you are at all interested in or fascinated by the brain, I highly recommend his books. Musicophilia was a series of case studies on people with different injuries, disabilities, or heightened abilities that affected their ability to hear, understand, or sense music. It was fascinating how many different senses come together to bring music to life – not just rhythm and melody, but timbre and tone and harmony and feeling. Some people feel it. Some don’t. But the thing that most resonated with me is that music comes from a separate part of the brain from literacy, speech, and logic. Being intelligent in one area has no effect on your enjoyment or abilities in music. I can be logical and still feel music at the depths of my soul. There is nothing strange about this.


Then I started reading Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engel. A friend gave me this book several months ago, but I did not even crack it open until last night. The timing was perfect. I have been thinking quite a lot about my faith and my art lately, and Madeleine L’Engel has eloquently given voice to my own thoughts on the subject. What I most enjoyed, I think, is her emphasis on the seeming illogic of art. If I think about it, if I try to turn it into something with a particular purpose, then I am trying to control God. If I allow Him to work through me, even if I don’t understand it, then there is Truth. And it is not always a logical truth, not something that can be put into words but that is felt and sensed through a completely different part of ourselves. What makes me love the art of Van Gogh? Or be completely moved by the work of Shostakovich and Dvorak and Rachmaninoff? It is not the logical part of myself. It must be something else.

What I have always felt is that I cannot be both logical and emotional. It ought to be one or the other. But what I am realizing now is not just that the two sides can be balanced, but that they can coexist. Reacting emotionally to fine art does not mean that my logic has been defeated. Nor does my ability to fix grammar mean that I’ve utterly destroyed my creative self. They live together, different parts of the same brain, different strengths that are not in any sort of competition with each other. Sure, I must put aside my logical self to let the power of creativity flow through me–it’s like turning a valve to access a different self. But that act does not change or weaken that logical self. In fact, there is evidence to show that using that creativity, especially in music and writing, strengthens several areas of your brain all at once. How’s that for coexisting?

What kind of art really moves you? Do you have a favorite composer, or artist, or writer who seems to create some resonance with you? I’d love to find some new art to explore, so please share in the comments!